With the Passover seder comes a wonderful tradition involving the hiding and finding of the afikoman. It is the Jewish version of hide-and-go-seek, a fun game designed to keep the youngsters engaged in the seder activities.
Finding the afikoman does not mean you will automatically have a life full of joy and happiness, but watching someone else find the afikoman does mean your night is (temporarily) ruined. It also means you might go to bed that night with questions running through your troubled mind like:
“Why on Earth did they tell me that I was ‘cold’ when I was looking right next to the couch cushion under which the afikoman was hidden? That was so misleading. At one point, I was sitting on that couch cushion so I couldn’t have been any hotter. I feel so manipulated and used. Why did I even get up to look for the afikoman? I guess that’s what happens when a 35-year-old competes with kids.”
The term “afikoman” is a Hebrew word (based on a Greek word) and means “that which comes after dessert.” If you are dining out, then there is one thing that certainly comes after dessert: the check. If you are dining at home, then the things that usually come after dessert include dishwashing, naps and, of course, birkat hamazon.
The afikoman is nothing more than a small piece of matzah is broken away from a larger piece of matzah. The breaking of the matzah is supposed to take place during the early phases of the seder and then the breakaway bandit, i.e., the afikoman, is set aside and hidden. For the record, during the seder it is better to break a piece of matzah than to break a promise, break a heart or break with tradition.
Some scholars contend that according to Jewish law, the afikoman must be the very last thing eaten at the seder, with no other consumption to follow until the morning’s breakfast. That means after the afikoman, you probably should not even chew gum. Then again, does chewing gum really qualify as eating? It’s unclear. Does humming qualify as singing? Does floating qualify as swimming? Discuss.
Many scholars contend the afikoman officially ends the meal and seder festivities because we are supposed to refrain from after-dinner revelry. The truth is, afikoman or no afikoman, most Jews have very little left in the tank after a long seder. The last thing most Jews want to do after a seder is to party. They would much rather collapse on the couch while others try in vain to clean up all of the inevitable, annoying and ubiquitous matzah crumbs.
Other scholars contend the afikoman is a substitute for the Passover sacrifice, the last thing consumed at the Passover seder during the time of the Temples. The Talmud states the taste of the afikoman should remain in a person’s mouth. That said, there are other things in life that should not remain in a person’s mouth, including a pacifier, a dentist’s drill or a kazoo.
Most scholars agree the afikoman should be eaten before midnight because during Temple times, the Passover sacrifice also took place before midnight. Of course, other things at a seder also should take place before midnight including, most importantly, the meal. If midnight comes and you are still singing “Dayenu,” then perhaps your family members are nocturnal olms.
Final thought: It is better to hide the afikoman than to hide the truth, hide your feelings or hide your true colors.
Yonatan Levi writes humor columns for the Cleveland Jewish News.